Literacy and numeracy skills in the education and labour market outcomes or refugees and their children

Project Researchers

Richard Mueller

Professor and Chair, Department of Economics at University of Lethbridge

Project Description

This project explored differences in literacy and numeracy skills, and the economic returns to these skills for immigrants to Canada in different admissions classes, compared to their Canadian-born counterparts. The categories of respondents were: adult economic immigrants, adult refugees, adult family reunification, other adult immigrants, adult temporary residents, young refugees, young non-refugee immigrants, and second-and third-generation Canadians.

This research sought to answer three questions:

  1. The impact of age at immigration on literacy and numeracy skills and how migration at a young age may help immigrants’ education outcomes and integration into the Canadian labour market
  2. The evolution of these skills over time
  3. The earning premium of these skills in the Canadian labour market.

Project Findings

The results of this research highlight the importance of literacy and numeracy skills, especially the latter, in determining success in the Canadian labour market (at least as measured by wages). With some exceptions, the results of this study suggest that both adult and young immigrants (those who arrived in Canada at age 13 or younger) do not perform as well on literacy and numeracy tests as those born in Canada, although young immigrants have higher test scores than adult immigrants. Similar results are found for wages, the study’s metric for success in the labour market. Generally, the study found that economic immigrants tend to have the highest test scores and hourly wages, with refugees having the lowest, amongst all immigration categories.

This research informs policymakers about the importance of numeracy skills in the integration of different immigrant classes into the Canadian labour market. The results also point to the importance of admission category in determining these skills, as well as the age at immigration. We hope these results will be used to guide policy related to the types of timing of interventions to better assist refugees and immigrants to perform well in the Canadian education system and, subsequently, in the labour market.